Eight Mountaineers Named All-Sun Belt First Team by Phil Steele

Margaret Elizabeth Deal
January 6, 2021
Thursday, January 7th
January 6, 2021
Eight Mountaineers Named All-Sun Belt First Team by Phil Steele


BOONE, N.C. — Phil Steele’s All-Sun Belt teams, which include bowl performances to account for the entire season, gave first-team recognition to eight App State players.


With top honors going to Shemar-Jean Charles (DB), Shaun Jolly (DB), Demetrius Taylor (DL), D’Marco Jackson (LB), Noah Hannon (OL), Ryan Neuzil (OL), Baer Hunter (OL) and Camerun Peoples (RB), the Mountaineers tied for the league lead by having eight first-team selections. A league-best 20 players from App State were included on the first, second, third and fourth teams.


Cooper Hodges (OL) made the second team, while the third team included Zac Thomas (QB), Thomas Hennigan (WR), Malik Williams (WR), Kaiden Smith (DB), Brendan Harrington (LB), Jalen Virgil (KR) and Christian Johnstone (LS). The Mountaineers’ fourth-team selections were Daetrich Harrington (RB), Henry Pearson (TE), Cole Garrison (OL) and Malik Williams (PR).


Jean-Charles and Jolly form the nation’s No. 1 FBS cornerback duo, according to PFF College, and Jean-Charles leads the nation with 16 PBUs and 17 passes defended. They helped App State finish as the only FBS team that allowed its opponents to complete less than 50 percent of their passes (48.0 percent).


Taylor had 6.0 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss in App State’s eight Sun Belt games, and Jackson tied for the team lead with 91 tackles while contributing 6.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions, six pass breakups, four QB hurries and one fumble recovery. He was the only FBS player with at least 90 tackles, 6.0 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks, two interceptions and eight passes defended this season — NC State’s Payton Wilson reached those marks in four of five categories but had only three passes defended (two INTs, one PBU).


With Hannon at center, Neuzil at left guard, Hunter at right guard, Hodges at right tackle and Garrison at left tackle, the Mountaineers went through the 2020 season with the nation’s most experienced line and ranked No. 7 nationally with 264.9 rushing yards per game. App State was the only FBS team with more than seven rushes of 50-plus yards (the Mountaineers had 10) and the only FBS team with more than four rushes of 60-plus yards (the Mountaineers had seven).


Even though Peoples started just the final five games, he led the Sun Belt with 1,124 rushing yards and tied for the league lead with 12 rushing touchdowns. Peoples also tied Buffalo’s Jaret Patterson for the FBS lead in rushes of 50 or more yards (five) in 2020 and led the nation with four rushes of 60-plus yards.

Thomas ended his career with a 32-6 record — good for the second-most wins among active FBS quarterbacks — and ranked second in the league with 20 touchdown passes. Daetrich Harrington was leading the Sun Belt in rushing yards per game (99.2) and rushing touchdowns (seven) before he suffered a season-ending injury in the sixth game.

In nine of App State’s 11 regular-season games, either Hennigan or Williams posted at least 60 receiving yards, and Pearson totaled six catches for 109 yards with two touchdowns in the final two games of a season in which he scored four times in eight games.

Elsewhere on defense, Smith ranked third on the team with 77 tackles and Brendan Harrington was fourth with 48. They defended 10 passes apiece, with Harrington picking off four and Smith securing two interceptions. He had eight PBUs, two more than Harrington.

On special teams, Virgil had a 100-yard kickoff return for a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter at Georgia Southern, and Johnstone again snapped with no miscues as he increased his starting streak at that spot to 26 games. Williams averaged 10.0 yards on 11 punt returns.